Guest Columnist

Instead of a wall, focus on the cause

U.S. President Donald Trump shows a photo of a
U.S. President Donald Trump shows a photo of a "typical" border wall design during a "roundtable discussion on border security and safe communities" with state, local, and community leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

It makes no more sense to refuse to build “the wall” than to insist on building “the wall.”

Why? Because neither side explains what they’re talking about.

How about some facts and a pinch of rational analysis?

The Mexican-U. S. border includes water (Gulf of Mexico, Rio Grande, Pacific Ocean), mountains, deserts, urban areas, and wildlife habitats. It’s nearly 2000 miles long of which 650 miles already have “walls.” Some remaining stretches make more enforcement and economic sense than others.

Under ideal conditions walls costs $4 to $8 million dollars a mile — more than a two-lane highway. In other areas costs are multiples of that. Some places are nearly impossible to reach or prohibitively expensive.

Walls can be tunneled under and climbed over. We don’t have enough border agents to watch every few feet of fence through isolated deserts, canyons and mountains. What the agents want, and some economists say makes more benefit-cost sense, are more (a) communications and surveillance technology, and (b) personnel.

Can walls stop illegal drugs? The Drug Enforcement Administration says all but a tiny percentage come through legal ports of entry.

Are immigrants criminals? The percentage who commit crimes is less than the percentage for U.S. citizens.

Moreover, the families coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are a symptom, not a cause. They are escaping poverty, violence, lack of education and jobs — conditions we’ve helped create and have done little to alleviate.

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Suppose dripping water from your kitchen ceiling was filling the pan you placed to catch it. Would your solution be to get a bigger bucket? Or would you go upstairs, discover the bathtub was overflowing, scream at whoever did it, shut off the faucet and start mopping?

In Afghanistan, after an Army general itemized extensive U.S. military construction projects, the popular stand-up comic, Kathleen Madigan, responded, “Wow! That is amazing. When we’re done, we should invade Detroit.”

Think about it. We’ve spent 17 years and trillions of dollars “improving” Afghanistan. What if we had also spent less than half that time and money “invading” northern Central America, training and hiring locals to build and staff schools, police stations, and hospitals? It would have been a lot easier to eliminate violence, crime and gangs from those countries than to eliminate the Taliban from Afghanistan.

It would have minimized our immigration challenges and costs. Few, if any, Central Americans would even think about leaving a happy home to walk a thousand miles or more to the United States.

We could still do it. Meanwhile, does anybody know where I can find a bigger bucket?

• Nicholas Johnson lives in Iowa City. His latest book is “Columns of Democracy.” Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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